By Ray Hamill — The Crusaders posted their 31st consecutive win in the Little 4 with a league-clinching 69-59 victory over Hoopa Valley at St. Bernard’s on Thursday night.
The win gives the St. Bernard’s girls a perfect 6-0 record in conference play for the fifth consecutive year, and secures a sixth straight league title for the dominating program.
But they had to fight for this one against a Hoopa team that pushed them all the way and finished runners-up in the Little 4 for the fourth straight year.
“Credit to Hoopa for playing an amazing game,” St. Bernard’s head coach Mark Gardner said. “They came to play with great energy and we had to push ourselves to compete at their level.”
In particular, sophomore Beyonce Bussell, who has grown into one of the most dangerous perimeter shooters in the league and finished with 27 points in the loss.
Bussell inspired her team early with three of her seven 3-pointers coming in the first quarter, as the Warriors came out the stronger of the two teams and opened up a 17-11 lead.
The Crusaders woke up in the second quarter, with standout senior Jasa Sisemore the catalyst in bringing her team back into the game.
Sisemore went to the free-throw line a remarkable 18 times in the first half, and keyed a 20-10 second quarter for the home team, which led by four at halftime.
Sisemore, one of four seniors honored before the game, finished with a team-high 19 points.
The Warriors enjoyed the better of exchanges in the third quarter and the two teams were tied heading into the fourth.
With the league crown on the line, however, it was the Crusaders who closed out the stronger of the two teams, outscoring the visitors by 10 for the period to seal the victory.
Mackenzie Finck was instrumental in the late surge, scoring nine of her 13 points in the final quarter, including a 6-for-7 effort at the free-throw line.
The ever-consistent Emily Gardner also had a big game, finishing with 16 points and making her presence felt more in the second half.
Before the game, the Crusaders honored their four seniors — Sisemore, Gardner, Maddie Costa and Sarah Regli.
Costa finished with eight points, while Regli finished with four.
The Warriors (7-15) close out league play at 4-2 and will host a first-round game in next week’s Dick Niclai tournament.
The Crusaders (19-5) have the No. 1 seed in the Little 4 for next week’s tournament.
Del Norte 63, Eureka 53
The Del Norte Warriors put an exclamation mark on their first-ever Big 5 championship in girls basketball, closing out their campaign with a come-from-behind win at Eureka.
Kaleya Sanchez paced the visitors offensively with 23 points, as the Warriors improved to 8-0 in the Big 5 and 19-2 overall, setting themselves up nicely for a run at both a Dick Niclai and North Coast Section championship.
The Del Norte girls (19-2 overall) close out the regular season as the No. 1 ranked Division-IV team in the NCS and No. 2 in the state.
“I want to congratulate coach (Justin) Clifton and Del Norte on their league championship,” a gracious Eureka head coach Michael Harvey said afterwards. “They played hard, and they played well.”
The Warriors’ two starting sophomore guards have grown into the most dangerous tandem in the league and continued to impress on Thursday.
Bella Stone finished with 17 points in the win, while Jadence Clifton added 11 points.
For Eureka, which closes out league play 5-3 and earned the No. 2 seed for next week’s Niclai tourney, the seniors played a big role on senior night.
All six — Tiana Rodgers, Dorshaela Wesson, Makaila Napoleon, Karyn Jensen, Paige Lyons and Ayana Watson — played a role in the regular season finale, with five of them starting.
Lyons finished with 12 points, and was particularly impressive, as was Wesson, who added seven points.
“We played well,” Harvey said. “I was really proud of our seniors.”
Napoleon finished with 11 points, while Sophia Chalmers had a team-high 13 points in what was a balanced performance from the Eureka girls.
The home team led by five at halftime and by two heading into the fourth quarter.
Carly Boynton added six points for Eureka, which is now 17-8.